Houston can learn a lot from the decades of success from Silicon Valley, according to this Houston founder, who outlines just what all the city needs to do to become the startup city it has the potential to be. Photo via Getty Images

Anyone who knows me knows, as a Houston Startup Founder, I often muse about the still developing potential for startups in Houston, especially considering the amount of industry here, subject matter expertise, capital, and size.

For example, Houston is No. 2 in the country for Fortune 500 Companies — with 26 Bayou City companies on the list — behind only NYC, which has 47 ranked corporations, according to Fortune.

Considering layoffs, fund closings, and down rounds, things aren’t all that peachy in San Francisco for the first time in a long time, and despite being a Berkeley native, I’m rooting for Houston now that I’m a transplant.

Let’s start by looking at some stats.

While we’re not No. 1 in all areas, I believe we have the building blocks to be a major player in startups, and in tech (and not just energy and space tech). How? If the best predictor of future success is history, why not use the template of the GOAT of all startup cities: San Francisco and YCombinator. Sorry fellow founders – you’ve heard me talk about this repeatedly.

YCombinator is considered the GOAT of Startup Accelerators/Incubators based on:

  1. The Startup success rate: I’ve heard it’s as high as 75 percent (vs. the national average of 5 to 10 percent) Arc Search says 50 percent of YC Co’s fail within 12 years – not shabby.
  2. Their startup-to-unicorn ratio: 5 to 7 percent of YC startups become unicorns depending on the source — according to an Arc Search search (if you haven’t tried Arc Search do – super cool).
  3. Their network.

YC also parlayed that success into a "YC Startup School" offering:

  1. Free weekly lessons by YC partners — sometimes featuring unicorn alumni
  2. A document and video Library (YC SAFE, etc)
  3. Startup perks for students (AWS cloud credits, etc.)
  4. YC co-founder matching to help founders meet co-founders

Finally, there’s the over $80 billion in returns, according to Arc search, they’ve generated since their 2005 inception with a total of 4,000 companies in their portfolio at over $600 billion in value. So GOAT? Well just for perspective there were a jaw-dropping 18,000 startups in startup school the year I participated – so GOAT indeed.

So how do they do it? Based on anecdotal evidence, their winning formula is said to be the following well-oiled process:

  1. Bring over 282 startups (the number in last cohort) to San Francisco for 90 days to prototype, refine the product, and land on the go-to-market strategy. This includes a pre-seed YC SAFE investment of a phased $500,000 commitment for a fixed min 7 percent of equity, plus more equity at the next round’s valuation, according to YC.
  2. Over 50 percent of the latest cohort were idea stage and heavily AI focused.
  3. Traction day: inter-portfolio traction the company. YC has over 4,000 portfolio companies who can and do sign up for each other’s companies products because “they’re told to."
  4. Get beta testers and test from YC portfolio companies and YC network.
  5. If they see the traction scales to a massively scalable business, they lead the seed round and get this: schedule and attend the VC meetings with the founders.
  6. They create a "fear of missing out" mentality on Sand Hill Road as they casually mention who they’re meeting with next.
  7. They block competitors in the sector by getting the top VC’s to co-invest with then in the seed so competitors are locked out of the A list VC funding market, who then are up against the most well-funded and buzzed about players in the space.

If what I've seen is true, within a six-month period a startup idea is prototyped, tested, pivoted, launched, tractioned, seeded, and juiced for scale with people who can ‘make’ the company all in their corner, if not already on their board.

So how on earth can Houston best this?

  1. We have a massive amount of businesses — around 200,000 — and people — an estimated 7.3 million and growing.
  2. We have capital in search of an identity beyond oil.
  3. Our Fortune 500 companies that are hiring consultants for things that startups here that can do for free, quicker, and for a fraction of the extended cost.
  4. We have a growing base of tech talent for potential machine learning and artificial intelligence talent
  5. A sudden shot at the increasingly laid off big tech engineers.
  6. We have more accelerators and incubators.

What do we need to pull it off?

  1. An organized well-oiled YC-like process
  2. An inter-Houston traction process
  3. An "Adopt a Startup" program where local companies are willing to beta test and iterate with emerging startup products
  4. We have more accelerators but the cohorts are small — average five to 10 per cohort.
  5. Strategic pre-seed funding, possibly with corporate partners (who can make the company by being a client) and who de-risk the investment.
  6. Companies here to use Houston startup’s products first when they’re launched.
  7. A forum to match companies’ projects or labs groups etc., to startups who can solve them.
  8. A process in place to pull all these pieces together in an organized, structured sequence.

There is one thing missing in the list: there has to be an entity or a person who wants to make this happen. Someone who sees all the pieces, and has the desire, energy and clout to make it happen; and we all know this is the hardest part. And so for now, our hopes of besting YC may be up in the air as well.

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Jo Clark is the founder of Circle.ooo, a Houston-based tech startup that's streamlining events management.

As much as leaders may wish the labor market were not so competitive, it is important to accept the reality and take action. Photo via Getty Images

How Houston businesses can attract tech talent amid a tight labor market

guest column

It is no surprise to recruiters that, despite high profile layoffs at major corporations, the labor market remains tight, especially in the tech industry.

According to data from McKinsey from the first half of this year, more than 80 percent of tech workers who were laid off found a new job within three months. Many of them found jobs outside of the tech industry, where technically skilled employees are in increasingly high demand.

If small businesses want to remain competitive, they need to evolve their hiring strategies. One answer to expanding the talent pool is skills-based hiring. Unlike traditional recruitment, which focuses mainly on applicants with college degrees or direct experience in their field, a skill-based hiring approach prioritizes specific competencies.

Research from LinkedIn revealed employers who practice skills-based hiring are 60 percent more likely to have success with hiring. A winning skills-based hiring strategy will identify diverse candidates, promote internal upskilling and accelerate the hiring process.

Find diverse candidates

Conventional hiring strategies tend to overlook many of the diverse candidates who benefit from skills-based hiring. One important aspect of skills-based hiring is connecting with these groups, who may not apply through traditional pipelines like online applications, employee referrals, or job fairs.

For example, candidates such as veterans, parents reentering the workforce and people without a college degree may not have the same connections as traditional applicants. Yet they often bring transferable skills and an ability to learn, enabling them to succeed in the role.

To expand their talent pool, businesses can start by connecting with organizations and events in Houston that target diverse groups. For example, the Texas Veterans Commission recommends that employers reach out to their local Texas Workforce Solutions Center to link with veterans seeking employment.

By making an effort to connect specifically with underrepresented groups, small businesses and startups can quickly deepen their pool of available talent.

Provide internal upskilling

Skills-based hiring focuses on the competences employees have already. Through upskilling, however, employers can internally train candidates to take on a new role or hire candidates with strong learning potential. Upskilling is the practice of offering ongoing learning and development (L&D) opportunities to employees to close skill gaps.

Upskilling opportunities cannot only expand the talent pool by enabling employers to train candidates on the job. They can also attract more applications across the board because they are in high demand from job candidates. The American Upskilling Study from Gallup found 57 percent of workers were “extremely” or “very” interested in an upskilling program, especially Black and Hispanic workers.

For small businesses trying to stay competitive, upskilling is an essential component of a skill-based hiring approach.

Accelerate the hiring process

Time-to-hire is telling about the effectiveness of an organization’s recruitment process. When recruitment drags on too long, candidates may accept another offer or grow disengaged with the process. Meanwhile, open roles may go unfilled. Unsurprisingly, LinkedIn data has found over six in 10 HR leaders named time-to-hire as their most important metric for success.

Small businesses and startups who want to increase their competitiveness should start by calculating their current time-to-hire. Once they understand the situation, they can analyze their approach for weaknesses.

Some of the most effective solutions to improve time-to-hire could include redesigning the application process, streamlining interviews, implementing an applicant tracking system or refining job descriptions. The goal is a highly efficient recruitment process that identifies qualified candidates and puts out an offer as soon as possible.

As much as leaders may wish the labor market were not so competitive, it is important to accept the reality and take action. Much like larger corporations, small businesses and startups will find the upper echelon of talent when they embrace skills-based hiring as the future of recruitment.

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Jill Chapman is a director of early talent programs with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

A Houston HR expert shares three tips for hiring top talent in a competitive market. Photo via Getty Images

How Houston small businesses can stand out when competing for in-demand talent

Guest column

As the economic recovery gears up, small business owners increasingly need to hire and retain the best talent available in their industry. The challenge for small- and medium-sized business owners is how to compete with large corporations that offer competitive compensation and benefits packages. The key is appealing to top-notch talent in a historically deep candidate pool -- and company culture can help small businesses stand out.

It has been proven that when small business owners concentrate on culture, identify what motivates employees and enjoy getting the job done, top-notch talent will follow.

Below are a few ideas for how small businesses can complete for top-notch talent:

Shape a winning company culture

Company culture means more than state-of-the-art facilities and amenities like free snacks. Company culture is an experience that will become part of the employee identity. Culture embodies many aspects of the organization including opportunities for advancement, company leadership and values. These details and more can shape a company's culture.

Small business owners also should try to look beyond the job description to identify like-minded individuals who align with the company's values. Employees who are strongly aligned with the company's mission can foster a positive workplace and a team that is happy, engaged, productive and committed. Top performers will be much more inclined to join the team and stay for longer tenures when given an opportunity to develop and advance in an uplifting environment.

Get attention with uncommon benefits

Agility is a tremendous advantage that small businesses have over their larger counterparts in the competition for top talent. Benefits unique to small businesses include accessible senior leadership and quick timelines for advancement. These and other advantages to small businesses can tip talent in their favor in lieu of the potential competition's higher salary.

Today, more traditional benefits have progressed to include mental, physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Small businesses can consider creating or updating an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Through an EAP, employers can offer unique benefits such as online therapy sessions or meditation apps. Additional offerings can include telemedicine services, expanded sick-leave, financial wellness programs or childcare assistance. Even more generous programs include online fitness subscriptions, free food delivery, streaming services memberships or reimbursement for remote-work expenses such as home office supplies.

Look for skills from other industries

As the post-pandemic economic landscape continues to evolve, talent acquisition is evolving with it. If recruiting for a new position, small business owners may find highly qualified individuals who may be seeking a career change or looking to tap into a new industry. It is important for small business owners to be open to experience across industries, which can bring new depth to a team.

Competing for top-notch talent is one of the many challenges for small businesses. By evaluating company culture and how it impacts employees at their core, small business owners will be on par to compete with large corporations for the ideal candidate. And once on board, quality employees will want to stay.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity,a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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Houston organization selected for program to explore future foods in space health

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

to infinity and beyond

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.